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It is only natural that our Evangelist should linger with a professional as well as a personal interest over Christ's connection with human suffering and disease, and that in recounting the miracles of healing he should be peculiarly at home; the theme would be in such thorough accord with his studies and tastes. It is true he does not refer to these miracles as being a fulfilment of prophecy; it is left for St. Matthew, who weaves his Gospel on the unfinished warp of the Old Testament, to recall the words of Isaiah, how "Himself took our infirmities and bare our diseases;" yet our physician-Evangelist evidently lingers over the pathological side of his Gospel with an intense interest. St. John passes by the miracles of healing in comparative silence, though he stays to give us two cases which are omitted by the Synoptists—that of the nobleman's son at Capernaum, and that of the impotent man at Bethesda. But St. John's Gospel moves in more etherial spheres, and the touches he chronicles are rather the touches of mind with mind, spirit with spirit, than the physical touches through the coarser medium of the flesh. The Synoptists, however, especially their earlier chapters, bring the works of Christ into prominence, travelling too very much over the same256 ground, though each introduces some special facts omitted by the rest, while in their record of the same fact each Evangelist throws some additional colouring.

Grouping together the miracles of healing—for our space will not allow a separate treatment of each—our thought is first arrested by the variety of forms in which suffering and disease presented themselves to Jesus, the wideness of the ground, physical and psychical, the miracles of healing cover. Our Evangelist mentions fourteen different cases, not, however, as including the whole, or even the greater part, but rather as being typical, representative cases. They are, as it were, the nearer constellations, localized and named; but again and again in his narrative we find whole groups and clusters lying farther back, making a sort of Milky Way of light, whose thickly clustered worlds baffle all our attempts at enumeration. Such are the "women" of chap. viii. ver. 2, who had been healed of their infirmities, but whose record is omitted in the Gospel story; and such, too, are those groups of cures mentioned in chapters iv. 40, v. 15, vi. 19, and vii. 21, when the Divine power seemed to culminate, throwing itself out in a largesse of blessing, fairly raining down its bright gifts of healing like meteoric showers.

Turning now to the typical cases mentioned by St. Luke, they are as follows: the man possessed of an unclean demon; Peter's wife's mother, who was sick of a fever; a leper, a paralytic, the man with the withered hand, the servant of the centurion, the demoniac, the woman with an issue, the boy possessed with a demon, the man with a dumb demon, the woman with an infirmity, the man with the dropsy, the ten lepers, and blind Bartimæus. The list, like so many lines of dark meridians, measures257 off the entire circumference of the world of suffering, beginning with the withered hand, and going on and down to that "sacrament of death," leprosy, and to that yet further deep, demoniacal possession. Some diseases were of more recent origin, as the case of fever; others were chronic, of twelve or eighteen years' standing, or lifelong, as in the case of the possessed boy. In some a solitary organ was affected, as when the hand had withered, or the tongue was tied by some power of evil, or the eyes had lost their gift of vision. In others the whole person was diseased, as when the fires of the fever shot through the heated veins, or the leprosy was covering the flesh with the white scales of death. But whatever its nature or its stage, the disease was acute, as far as human probabilities went, past all hope of healing. It was no slight attack, but a "great fever" which had stricken down the mother-in-law of Peter, the intensive adjective showing that it had reached its danger-point. And where among human means was there hope for a restored vision, when for years the last glimmer of light had faded away, when even the optic nerve was atrophied by the long disuse? and where, among the limited pharmacopœias of ancient or even among the vastly extended lists of modern times, was there a cure for the leper, who carried, burned into his very flesh, his sentence of death? No, it was not the trivial, temporary cases of sickness Jesus took in hand; but He passed into that innermost shrine of the temple of suffering, the shrine that lay in perpetual night, and over whose doorway was the inscription of Dante's "Inferno," "All hope abandon, ye who enter here!" But when Jesus entered this grim abode He turned its darkness to light, its sighs to songs, bringing hope258 to despairing ones, and leading back into the light of day these captives of Death, as Orpheus is fabled to have brought back to earth the lost Eurydice.

And not only are the cases so varied in their character, and humanly speaking, hopeless in their nature, but they were presented to Jesus in such a diversity of ways. They are none of them arranged for, studied. They could not have formed any plan or routine of mercy, nor were they timed for the purpose of producing spectacular effects. They were nearly all of them impromptu, extemporary events, coming without His seeking, and coming often as interruptions to His own plans. Now it is in the synagogue, in the pauses of public worship, that Jesus rebukes an unclean devil, or He bids the cripple stretch out his withered hand. Now it is in the city, amid the crowd, or out upon the plain; now it is within the house of a chief Pharisee, in the very midst of an entertainment; while at other times He is walking on the road, when, without even stopping in His journey, He wills the leper clean, or He throws the gift of life and health forward to the centurion's servant, whom He has not seen. No times were inopportune to Him, and no places were foreign to the Son of man, where men suffered and pain abode. Jesus refused no request on the ground that the time was not well chosen, and though He did again and again refuse the request of selfish interest or vain ambition, He never once turned a deaf ear to the cry of sorrow or of pain, no matter when or whence it came.

And if we consider His methods of healing we find the same diversity. Perhaps we ought not to use that word, for there was a singular absence of method. There was nothing set, artificial in His way, but an259 easy freedom, a beautiful naturalness. In one respect, and perhaps in one only, are all similar, and that is in the absence of intermediaries. There was no use of means, no prescription of remedies; for in the seeming exception, the clay with which He anointed the eyes of the blind, and the waters of Siloam which He prescribed, were not remedial in themselves; the washing was rather the test of the man's faith, while the anointing was a sort of "aside," spoken, not to the man himself, but to the group of onlookers, preparing them for the fresh manifestation of His power. Generally a word was enough, though we read of His healing "touch," and twice of the symbolic laying on of hands. And by-the-way, it is somewhat singular that Jesus made use of the touch at the healing of the leper, when the touch meant ceremonial uncleanness. Why does He not speak the word only, as He did afterwards at the healing of the "ten"? And why does He, as it were, go out of His way to put Himself in personal contact with a leper, who was under a ceremonial ban? Was it not to show that a new era had dawned, an era in which uncleanness should be that of the heart, the life, and no longer the outward uncleanness, which any accident of contact might induce? Did not the touching of the leper mean the abrogation of the multiplied bans of the Old Dispensation, just as afterwards a heavenly vision coming to Peter wiped out the dividing-line between clean and unclean meats? And why did not the touch of the leper make Jesus ceremonially unclean? for we do not read that it did, or that He altered His plans one whit because of it. Perhaps we find our answer in the Levitical regulations respecting the leprosy. We read (Lev. xiv. 28) that at the cleansing of the leper the priest was to dip his right260 finger in the blood and in the oil, and put it on the ear, and hand, and foot of the person cleansed. The finger of the priest was thus the index or sign of purity, the lifting up of the ban which his leprosy had put around and over him. And when Jesus touched the leper it was the priestly touch; it carried its own cleansing with it, imparting power and purity, instead of contracting the defilement of another.

But if Jesus touched the leper, and permitted the woman of Capernaum to touch Him, or at any rate His garment, He studiously avoided any personal contact with those possessed of devils. He recognized here the presence of evil spirits, the powers of darkness, which have enthralled the weaker human spirit, and for these a word is enough. But how different a word to His other words of healing, when He said to the leper, "I will; be thou clean," and to Bartimæus, "Receive thy sight"! Now it is a word sharp, imperative, not spoken to the poor helpless victim, but thrown over and beyond him, to the dark personality, which held a human soul in a vile, degrading bondage. And so while the possessed boy lay writhing and foaming on the ground, Jesus laid no hand upon him; it was not till after He had spoken the mighty word, and the demon had departed from him, that Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him up.

But whether by word or by touch, the miracles were wrought with consummate ease; there were none of those artistic flourishes which mere performers use as a blind to cover their sleight of hand. There was no straining for effect, no apparent effort. Jesus Himself seemed perfectly unconscious that He was doing anything marvellous or even unusual. The words of power fell naturally from His lips, like the falling of leaves261 from the tree of life, carrying, wheresoever they might go, healing for the nations.

But if the method of the cures is wonderful, the unstudied ease and simple naturalness of the Healer, the completeness of the cures is even more so. In all the multitudes of cases there was no failure. We find the disciples baffled and chagrined, attempting what they cannot perform, as with the possessed boy; but with Jesus failure was an impossible word. Nor did Jesus simply make them better, bringing them into a state of convalescence, and so putting them in the way of getting well. The cure was instant and complete; "immediately" is St. Luke's frequent and favourite word; so much so that she who half an hour ago was stricken down with malignant fever, and apparently at the point of death, now is going about her ordinary duties as if nothing had happened, "ministering" to Peter's many guests. Though Nature possesses a great deal of resilient force, her periods of convalescence, when the disease itself is checked, are more or less prolonged, and weeks, or sometimes months, must elapse before the spring-tides of health return, bringing with them a sweet overflow, an exuberance of life. Not so, however, when Jesus was the Healer. At His word, or at the mere beckoning of His finger, the tides of health, which had gone far out in the ebb, suddenly returned in all their spring fulness, lifting high on their wave the bark which through hopeless years had been settling down into its miry grave. Eighteen years of disease had made the woman quite deformed; the contracting muscles had bent the form God made to stand erect, so that she could "in no wise lift herself up;" but when Jesus said, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity," and laid His hands upon her, in an262 instant the tightened muscles relaxed, the bent form regained its earlier grace, for "she was made straight, and glorified God." One moment, with the Christ in it, was more than eighteen years of disease, and with the most perfect ease it could undo all the eighteen years had done. And this is but a specimen case, for the same completeness characterizes all the cures that Jesus wrought. "They were made whole," as it reads, no matter what the malady might be; and though disease had loosened all the thousand strings, so that the wonderful harp was reduced to silence, or at best could but strike discordant notes, the hand of Jesus has but to touch it, and in an instant each string recovers its pristine tone, the jarring sounds vanish, and body, "mind, and soul according well, awake sweet music as before."

But though Jesus wrought these many and complete cures, making the healing of the sick a sort of pastime, the interludes in that Divine "Messiah," still He did not work these miracles indiscriminately, without method or conditions. He freely placed His service at the disposal of others, giving Himself up to one tireless round of mercy; but it is evident there was some selection for these gifts of healing. The healing power was not thrown out randomly, falling on any one it might chance to strike; it flowed out in certain directions only, in ordered channels; it followed certain lines and laws. For instance, these circles of healing were geographically narrow. They followed the personal presence of Jesus, and with one or two exceptions, were never found apart from that presence; so that, many as they were, they would form but a small part of suffering humanity. And even within these circles of His visible presence we are not to suppose263 that all were healed. Some were taken, and others were left, to a suffering from which only death would release them. Can we discover the law of this election of mercy? We think we may.

(1) In the first place, there must be the need for the Divine intervention. This perhaps goes without saying, and does not seem to mean much, since among those who were left unhealed there were needs just as great as those of the more favoured ones. But while the "need" in some cases was not enough to secure the Divine mercy, in other cases it was all that was asked. If the disease was mental or psychical, with reason all bewildered, and the firmaments of Right and Wrong mixed confusedly together, making a chaos of the soul, that was all Jesus required. At other times He waited for the desire to be evoked and the request to be made; but for these cases of lunacy, epilepsy, and demoniacal possession He waived the other conditions, and without waiting for the request, as in the synagogue (iv. 34) or on the Gadarene coast, He spoke the word, which brought order to a distracted soul, and which led Reason back to her Jerusalem, to the long-vacant throne.

For others the need itself was not sufficient; there must be the request. Our desire for any blessing is our appraisement of its value, and Jesus dispensed His gifts of healing on the Divine conditions, "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find." How the request came, whether from the sufferer himself or through some intercessor, it did not matter; for no request for healing came to Jesus to be disregarded or denied. Nor was it always needful to put the request into words. Prayer is too grand and great a thing for the lips to have a monopoly of it, and the deepest264 prayers may be put into acts as well as into words, as they are sometimes uttered in inarticulate sighs, and in groans which are too deep for words. And was it not truest prayer, as the multitudes carried their sick and laid them down at the feet of Jesus, even had their voice spoken no solitary word? and was it not truest prayer, as they put themselves, with their bent forms and withered hands right in His way, not able to speak one single word, but throwing across to Him the piteous but hopeful look? The request was thus the expression of their desire, and at the same time the expression of their faith, telling of the trust they reposed in His pity and His power, a trust He was always delighted to see, and to which He always responded, as He Himself said again and again, "Thy faith hath saved thee." Faith then, as now, was the sesame to which all Heaven's gates fly open; and as in the case of the paralytic who was borne of four, and let down through the roof, even a vicarious faith prevails with Jesus, as it brings to their friend a double and complete salvation. And so they who sought Jesus as their Healer found Him, and they who believed entered into His rest, this lower rest of a perfect health and perfect life; while they who were indifferent and they who doubted were left behind, crushed by the sorrow that He would have removed, and tortured by pains that His touch would have completely stilled.

And now it remains for us to gather up the light of these miracles, and to focus it on Him who was the central Figure, Jesus, the Divine Healer. And (1) the miracles of healing speak of the knowledge of Jesus. The question, "What is man?" has been the standing question of the ages, but it is still unanswered,265 or answered but in part. His complex nature is still a mystery, the eternal riddle of the Sphinx, and Œdipus comes not. Physiology can number and name the bones and muscles, can tell the forms and functions of the different organs; chemistry can resolve the body into its constituent elements, and weigh out their exact proportions; philosophy can map out the departments of the mind; but man remains the great enigma. Biology carries her silken clue right up to the primordial cell; but here she finds a Gordian knot, which her keenest instruments cannot cut, or her keenest wit unravel. Within that complex nature of ours are oceans of mystery which Thought may indeed explore, but which she cannot fathom, paths which the vulture eye of Reason hath not seen, whose voices are the voices of unknown tongues, answering each other through the mist. But how familiar did Jesus seem with all these life-secrets! how intimate with all the life-forces! How versed He was in etiology, knowing without possibility of mistake whence diseases came, and just where they looked! It was no mystery to Him how the hand had shrunk, shrivelling into a mass of bones, with no skill in its fingers, and no life in its cloyed-up veins, or how the eyes had lost their power of vision. His knowledge of the human frame was an exact and perfect knowledge, reading its innermost secrets, as in a transparency, knowing to a certainty what links had dropped out of the subtle mechanism, and what had been warped out of place, and knowing well just at what point and to what an extent to apply the healing remedy, which was His own volition. All earth and all heaven were without a covering to His gaze; and what was this but Omniscience?

266(2) Again, the miracles of healing speak of the compassion of Jesus. It was with no reluctance that He wrought these works of mercy; it was His delight. His heart was drawn towards suffering and pain by the magnetism of a Divine sympathy, or rather, we ought to say, towards the sufferers themselves; for suffering and pain, like sin and woe, were exotics in His Father's garden, the deadly nightshade an enemy had sown. And so we mark a great tenderness in all His dealings with the afflicted. He does not apply the caustic of bitter and biting words. Even when, as we may suppose, the suffering is the harvest of earlier sin, as in the case of the paralytic, Jesus speaks no harsh reproaches; He says simply and kindly, "Go in peace, and sin no more." And do we not find here a reason why these miracles of healing were so frequent in His ministry? Was it not because in His mind sickness was somehow related to sin? If miracles were needed to attest the Divineness of His mission, there was no need of the constant succession of them, no need, that they should form a part, and a large part, of the daily task. Sickness is, so to speak, something unnaturally natural. It results from the transgression of some physical law, as sin is the transgression of some moral law; and He who is man's Saviour brings a complete salvation, a redemption for the body as well as a redemption for the soul. Indeed, the diseases of the body are but the shadows, seen and felt, of the deeper diseases of the soul, and with Jesus the physical healing was but a step to the higher truth and higher experience, that spiritual cleansing, that inner creation of a right spirit, a perfect heart. And so Jesus carried on the two works side by side; they were the two parts of His one and great salvation; and as He loved and pitied the sinner,267 so He pitied and loved the sufferer; His sympathies all went out to meet him, preparing the way for His healing virtues to follow.

(3) Again, the miracles of healing speak of the power of Jesus. This was seen indirectly when we considered the completeness of the cures, and the wide field they covered, and we need not enlarge upon it now. But what a consciousness of might there was in Jesus! Others, prophets and apostles, have healed the sick, but their power was delegated. It came as in waves of Divine impulse, intermittent and temporary. The power that Jesus wielded was inherent and absolute, deeps which knew neither cessation nor diminution. His will was supreme over all forces. Nature's potencies are diffused and isolated, slumbering in herb or metal, flower or leaf, in mountain or sea. But all are inert and useless until man distils them with his subtle alchemies, and then applies them by his slow processes, dissolving the tinctures in the blood, sending on its warm currents the healing virtue, if haply it may reach its goal and accomplish its mission. But all these potencies lay in the hand or in the will of Christ. The forces of life all were marshalled under His bidding. He had but to say to one "Go," and it went, here or there, or anywhither; nor does it go for nought; it accomplishes its high behest, the great Master's will. Nay, the power of Jesus is supreme even in that outlying and dark world of evil spirits. The demons fly at His rebuke; and let Him throw but one healing word across the dark, chaotic soul of one possessed, and in an instant Reason dawns; bright thoughts play on the horizon; the firmaments of Right and Wrong separate to infinite distances; and out of the darkness a Paradise emerges, of beauty and light, where the new268 son of God resides, and God Himself comes down in the cool and the heat of the days alike. What power is this? Is it not the power of God? is it not Omnipotence?

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